Aruba’s moniker — one happy island — is an apt one. Locals and visitors can’t help but be joyful on this diminutive Dutch isle just off the coast of Venezuela. But don’t be fooled by its small size (just 70 square miles). The attractions are plentiful, from beaches and natural wonders to world-class dining and shopping to the most sunshine in all of the Caribbean. It’s no wonder Aruba attracts more than 1.5 million visitors each year.
The Ritz-Carlton is the finest property on the island. Situated on exclusive Palm Beach, the resort boasts luxurious guest accommodations (all with private balconies overlooking the sea), two swimming pools (one being adults-only), five restaurants (including a BLT Steak outpost), a 15,000-square-foot spa, a 24-hour casino and the best concierge service in town. The seventh floor Club Level features five daily food presentations, kids’ activities, stunning seascapes through its floor-to-ceiling windows and more. The hotel’s staff aims to please and can assist with everything from arranging a private dinner on the beach to planning the ultimate destination wedding.
From surfing to scuba diving to cruising on a catamaran, watersports are a given here. But the real thrill is experiencing the country by jeep or ATV. Tours cruise past colorful architecture toward the rocky north coast, with stops along the way at such attractions as the Ayo Rock Formations, the Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins and the famous Natural Bridge. A national treasure, Arikok National Park is a world away from the calm, white-sand beaches visitors expect of Aruba. It covers 20 percent of the island and offers unexpected flora and fauna as well as incredible water vistas.
The shopping experience ranges from open-air flea markets ideal for scoring souvenirs to the high-end Renaissance Mall, home to such luxury brands as Bulgari, Cartier, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada. There are also plenty of opportunities to support local artisans, such as at Cosecha, a retail gallery proffering certified handmade goods. The best part? The U.S. dollar is widely accepted here, so no need to exchange currency.
Delicious epicurean options abound. The Kitchen Table seats just 16 guests and presents decadent, multicourse feasts (reservations required). One of Aruba’s top eateries, Yemanja Woodfire Grill is known for its Caribbean flavors and European style. Barefoot, meanwhile, serves up the ultimate tropical experience: elegant dining in a beachfront setting, where guests are encouraged to kick off their sandals and rest their feet in the soft, white sand.
If You Go
Embarking on an Aruba adventure just got easier thanks to Sun Country Airlines, which recently started offering seasonal nonstop flights from the Twin Cities to Queen Beatrix International Airport (AUA).
WHAT TO EXPECT
Aruba is a safe, highly developed country, and visiting is very simple for Americans. Although the official languages are Dutch and Papiamento, many locals speak English. The U.S. dollar is widely accepted.
Because of its small size, the island is fairly easy to navigate via taxi or rental car. But take note that the capital city of Oranjestad has many one-way streets and roundabouts, and parking can be challenging in popular tourist areas.
The easternmost island in the Caribbean, Barbados is brimming with lively nightlife, rich history and friendly Bajan natives (Bay-juns, from the British pronunciation of “Barbadian”). Its west coast is referred to as the Platinum Coast for its powdery beaches and clear, warm waters. The east coast, meanwhile, is ruled by locals and showcases Barbados’ authentic side. Here’s how to spend 48 hours on the isle.
Hunte’s Gardens is a manicured, sculpted plot of land in an unusual sink-hole-like gully. Its lush, tropical grounds contain a notable recreation of a Caribbean forest, including a plant collection of international importance.
Seafood by the Sea
Perched at the edge of the sea on Tent Bay, the Atlantis Hotel has been greeting guests since 1884. It is famed for its fine Bajan cuisine, such as flying-fish fillets, conch patties, pepper-pot stew and pickled sea cat (octopus).
There are more than 1,500 rum shops here, many of which are found in wooden shacks attached to their owners’ homes. Most sell rum by the flask. People congregate to socialize and discuss everything under the sun.
Spread out along a 750-foot stretch of Paynes Bay beach on the Platinum Coast, Tamarind boasts an exotic, hip vibe and 104 contemporary guest rooms and suites. Its vibrant Mediterranean-style buildings create a private, serene retreat balanced with a youthful energy, perfect for couples, families, groups and world travelers alike.
Friendly hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles call Barbados home and let visitors swim freely with them. Tours can be booked with one of the numerous boat operators.
Dinner and a Show
The Cliff, the island’s most famous eatery, offers a 180-degree view from its tiered, waterfront setting. Open only at night, it attracts both celebrities and tourists, who come to watch stingrays and tarpon swim in the floodlit waters below. The food and service are fantastic.
Natural Wonders Part I
Harrison’s Cave is one of Barbados’ greatest wonders. Situated in the central uplands, this incredible crystallized limestone cavern features flowing streams, towering columns and deep pools of crystal-clear water.
Natural Wonders Part II
The Animal Flower Cave along the north coast is another must-see natural marvel. It gets its name from the sea anemones found in its pools, some of which are ideal for swimming. There are several vantage points to watch the waves crash up against the cliffs.
What was once a classic seaside home is now the Tides Restaurant, known for its beautifully crafted seafood dishes with Asian touches. The open-air, oceanfront setting — with trees growing right through the roof — is magical, especially if you can score a waterfront table. The bar doubles as a gallery for local art.
Land Rovers take adventure seekers on guided expeditions through scenic bays, beaches, forests, gullies and plantations.
Sport of Kings
A former English colony, Barbados has a strong polo tradition. The best place to take in a match? Picturesque Holders Polo Field, the epicenter of the social scene.
Cin Cin by the Sea stands for a toast to good health. Guests dine either indoors with views of the sea or on the open-air terrace. Dishes are inventive, with plenty of interesting combinations on the plate.
If You Go
Nonstop flights are available on several airlines from Atlanta; Charlotte, North Carolina; Dallas–Fort Worth; Miami and New York City. Grantley Adams International Airport (BGI), Barbados’ sole airport, is situated 15 minutes from the south coast, 30 minutes from Bridgetown and 45 minutes from the west coast.
WHEN TO GO
High season runs mid-December through mid-April. Some resorts and restaurants close in September and October, the slowest months of the off-season.
Several hotels can arrange ground transfers, and taxies are widely available. Renting a car is another option, as is taking the bus, which offers reliable service throughout the island.
“Welcome home” is the first thing guests hear upon checking in at Jamaica Inn in the port town of Ocho Rios along the island’s north coast. In fact, you will hear it many times during your stay, from the doorman, the bell captains, the front-desk receptionists and even the owners of the property.
Visiting Jamaica Inn is like stepping back in time. The eight-acre property has 47 spacious suites, five one- and two-bedroom cottages, and a 700-foot stretch of secluded, white-sand beach. Each suite comes complete with a private veranda overlooking the Caribbean.
The ethos here is one of escapism and rest. As such, guest quarters have neither televisions nor alarm clocks. But fret not: Wi-Fi is available in every nook and cranny, so you needn’t
dread digging out from under endless emails upon your return home. Jamaica Inn is meant for adults, and children under 10 are not allowed.
The cottages are one-of-a-kind with private pools. The standout White Suite (known as Winston Churchill among regulars) sits on its own private peninsula and is decorated with fine Jamaican antiques. Within its 2,000 square feet are a large bedroom, a sitting area and a luxurious marble bathroom. Just outside are a private terrace, a pool and gardens. Breathtaking sea vistas abound.
KiYara Ocean Spa offers treatments in thatch-roofed huts set amid a tropical garden. Wellness services range from facials and massages to Pilates classes and private yoga instruction. Additional activities include complimentary kayaking, paddleboarding, snorkeling and sunfish sailing.
The food at Jamaica Inn is top-notch. Meal plans are available, and for a modest fee, fare will be delivered right to your veranda. Dinner Terrace is an alfresco experience boasting a nightly changing menu of international cuisine infused with local flavors.
After dark, Old World glamour kicks in, with a dress code of resortwear for women and collared shirts and long trousers for men. Guests love being served by Teddy Tucker, who has tended the bar for more than 50 years. Also locally famous is Shadow, several consecutive wandering black Labrador mascots who have been part of the resort for decades.
What makes Jamaica Inn so mesmerizing is that time seems to stand still here. There is something extremely enchanting about old travel institutions like this. The hotel is featured in the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and has attracted an undeniable celebrity following, including the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Sir Richard Branson and Kate Winslet. For any vacationer yearning to escape winter, Jamaica Inn is the ticket.
If You Go
Jamaica Inn is located just minutes from the center of Ocho Rios and approximately 1.5 hours from the Kingston (YGK) and Montego Bay (MBJ) airports.
WHEN TO GO
Thanks to its tropical climate, Jamaica is considered a year-round destination. High season runs from mid-December to mid-April.
Jamaica Inn can arrange transportation if you want to check out a local jerk shack, go shopping or just venture off-property. The island is deceptively large, and some roads are hazardous.
Read this article as it appears in the magazine.